Archive for Thursday, March 27, 2003

Chat with Lawrence school board candidate Cindy Yulich

March 27, 2003


Welcome to our online chat with Lawrence school board candidate Cindy Yulich.The chat took place on Thursday, March 27, at 10:30 AM and is now closed, but you can read the full transcript on this page.

Moderator: Welcome to today's chat with school board candidate Cindy Yulich, which is now under way. Feel free to submit your questions.

Parent of two: What security updates can be made with regards to the portable classrooms, which are cut off from the main building.

Cindy Yulich: Aside from moving the kids back into the buildings, I'm not sure what other security updates can reasonably be made. Portables are just that - temporary facilities. We cannot keep a building locked when kids are moving in and out each hour. I'm not answering your question very well but this very issue does concern me. At SWJH, we have approximately a third of the population outside the building at any one time. This is a serious issue.

Donna: Good morning.

What's your primary goal if you are elected?

Cindy Yulich: Obviously, trying to maintain the best program we can for our students given the serious financial problems we face must be paramount. Beyond that, I am committed to increasing the communication between the city, county, planning commission and school board. In addition, communication between the board and its patrons needs work. Clearly, a sector of our community is feeling left behind. I believe our board and administration have tried very hard to bridge that but given the conversations we're having during this election, we have much to do to improve those communication lines.

Locking: At the forum last night, Ed Tato said the plan to eliminate schools with only one class at each grade level, such as East Heights, wasn't backed up with convincing educational research.

What are your thoughts on that.

Cindy Yulich: I admire Ed Tato and his thoughtful, intelligent approach to the challenges our community faces. I believe he clearly takes the time to study the issues. However, I believe the research does exist. One of our local teachers, Barb Thompson, has done extensive research on class size and its impact on students. She is happy to share that research with anyone who is interested. A piece of maintaining small class size, without moving to dreaded combination classrooms, is providing a two-section school approach so classes can be balanced. Sharen Steele, principal at New York, has provided an editorial that highlights the challenges of one section schools - lack of ability to control class size, limitation of resource and support services due to low populations, and lack of the ability for teacher collaboration and co-teaching are just a few.

Jon: Everyone seems to be concerned with the evolution/creationism issue. Do the Lawrence schools need to do anything further to address this?

Cindy Yulich: Jon, I believe creationism should be taught at home and at church. Obviously the "separation of church and state" is our law, but beyond that if we decide to teach creationism, whose version should we teach? Again, i believe that instruction is best left to families and other sectors of the community.

Mike: What do you think of the early out for our kids on Wednesdays? Is that accounted for when figuring the cost to teach each child?

Cindy Yulich: Mike - when collaboration was first thrust upon us I was both surprised and irritated. It was an example, I think, of a serious lack of communication between the district and its patrons. That said, I've become convinced. As I visit with teachers and schools, I see that collaboration has become something of a sacred time for staff. They are in their buildings working with each other discussing lesson plans, student achievement and concerns, meeting as an entire staff at the only time during the "work week" they have available. I believe it is time being spent wisely. Also, our community seems to have found a way to embrace the process by providing after-school activities, etc. during the Wednesday early release time. I am not certain I understand your question regarding the cost to teach each child and collaboration. Collaboration is a fairly "across the board" program.

Concerned parent: Hi, Cindy.

I know you have a background in finance. Is there anything you'd like to say to the people out there who still don't think the bond is what Lawrence needs right now?

Cindy Yulich: Thanks for the opportunity. I do have a 20+ year history as a banker. I've also served on several boards and looked at many financial statements. When i first discovered the minimal debt load our district has, I was amazed. Presently, we have debt of approximately 8 percent against our assets - that is phenomenally low! Many districts, including those that surround us have much higher numbers - indeed DeSoto is out near the 80 percent range. We have been fiscally conservative for many, many years. Even with the additional bond debt, we will still remain very low (We will retain our same ranking within similar districts even with the additional debt). Finally, I know we are in a time of a sluggish economy. However, at any point during a 20-year bond you will have a sluggish economy. By taking the bond out during such a time, we can take advantage of interest rates lower than many of us have ever seen and we can also take advantage of an extremely competitive construction bid environment - those companies need work and we can get the most for our dollar.

Newcomer to Lawrence: The pictures we're seeing of the cracks in the wall, gross showers, etc., seem to show a lot of neglect. Are things really that bad in Lawrence schools or is this a case of trying to sell the bond?

Cindy Yulich: Welcome to Lawrence! When I decided to run for the board I also decided I should see each building myself. Not only to look at the physical qualities but to see each building "in action" and hear the concerns from each building principal. They are not simply making a case for trying to sell the bond. These concerns are very, very real. I believe for decades we've been penny-wise and pound foolish and now we are paying the price. I encourage anyone who does not believe what is being presented to visit the school they question. In fifteen minutes with Mick Lowe at West, Ted Juneau at Central, Russell Blackbird at South, Judy Juneau at the Alternative High School or Trish Bransky at SWJH (or any of the other schools involved) - you will see what I saw. They are happy to spend the time to do that.

Randy: The proposed budget assumes $1.4 M in savings from the school consolidations. Dr. Weseman last night in the bond forum admitted that moving the Pre-K into East Heights and reuse of Centennial would negate some of those savings. Riverside has I believe 8 FTE classroom teachers (other than specials) and the district is proposing to save 5 positions from that group of 8 upon consolidation. The classes at Riverside have a nice student/teacher ratio now. Unless this ratio increases dramatically upon consolidation, the students will bring with them most of the teachers upon transfer. Do you have concerns that the $1.4 Million may end up being substantially less?

Cindy Yulich: Randy - I know this has been a concern for many. The school district has made available the detail. Did it take some time to make that public - yes but I believe that is because this board wanted to make absolutely certain that the accuracy and detail was there for public scrutiny. Shutting down buildings, eliminating maintenance, utilities, etc. and USING THE TEACHER AND SUPPORT RESOURCES WE HAVE MORE EFFICIENTLY will not only bring savings but will better deliver curriculum and resources to our students. When teachers are driving from school to school, we are wasting money paying them to drive - that's one example of the inefficiency that can be corrected. But beyond the savings - we need to focus on how we can get the most to the kids. And I believe the proposal does that.

Lawrence Citizen: You're currently on the school board, so what do you think you can add by extending your stay as a member? Are there current issues that you are involved with that you would like to see through?

Cindy Yulich: While I've volunteered in this district for over ten years, I'm NOT a current school board member. Some people have accused me of "working" for the district because I seem to show up a lot and the staff at my bank would probably agree that I work more for the district than I do the bank. That said, I think I'd go back to my earlier comments. We have to focus on providing the best overall program so our kids graduate ready to follow their dreams to the next level - whether that's KU, a school far from home, a vo-tech institution or going straight into the work force. I'd also like to work on the communication improvements I mentioned earlier in this chat.

Kim: I notice you seem to be concerned with communication issues between the school board and the city. Are there any specific plans you have for improving communication? Or what should parents do who want their voices heard but aren't sure how best to get it out there.

Cindy Yulich: Kim - one thing that has become apparent to me is that many members of our community aren't going to come to "us" (us being the board, the administration, the district). We must find ways to go to THEM. We have to listen - and we have to get them involved EARLY in the process not after decisions have been made and we need feedback. School board meetings are public but clearly many aren't getting the message. I've contemplated whether we could develop regular e-mails or newsletters to interested patrons and provide a mechanism for feedback so we can let them say what they have to say in a comfortable manner - and that we INVITE that feedback. I think Ed Tato said it well last night - for many, public comment is probably the worst place to get true, honest feedback from people. It's an intimidating process. That's just one idea.

Curious: It's getting closer to the election. What do you think are the chances of the bond issue passing if the election were held today?

Cindy Yulich: I'm an optimist. I'd like to think that are well education, engaged community has looked at this information (although it's very complicated) and will pass the bond to move us forward. But the public will decide and then the board and administration will respond. The most we can do is provide information, answer the concerns, and encourage people to get to the polls on Tuesday.

Voter: Hi, Cindy.

Please give your opinion on the plans for the alternative high school.

Cindy Yulich: Thanks for the question. The alternative high school is a special, special place. I've spent time there talking with the students. They are bright, engaged and articulate. In many ways, they are beyond their years. They have faced a variety of challenges in their lives that have brought them to the alternative high school as their means to a high school diploma and finding their dreams in life. The staff there is exceptional - they know and believe in these children. I do believe in the program. I also believe it is well-placed. The community there has embraced the school in it's present setting. There is ample parking for the students. When looking at the amount of dollars it would take to retro fit an elementary building for the cost of building improvements at the present site, I think the proposal is wise. The students at that school deserve the proposed improvements.

Tina: I am just wondering, instead of putting major money into building the already big schools bigger to accommodate the students from East Heights and Centennial, why can't they just put the money into making like E.H. bigger to make it easier for the low-income kids that go there, because it is closer then Cordley and New York for most of the kids that walk. I have nothing against the other schools I am just concerned for the kids that are already at East Heights, especially the special needs kids who don't know any other school or the teachers

Cindy Yulich: Tina - As a member of the East Heights Site Council, I too am concerned for those kids. You refer to Cordley and New York as "already big schools" which I don't agree with. New York is anticipating a population of 115 students next year - that's very small! The studies I have reviewed site "small school" as 350 to 400 students or less. Under the proposed consolidation, those schools will not exceed 250. The board has truly recognized that a "one size fits all" approach isn't the answer we want. While retaining small schools, concentrating on small CLASSES, I think we can do the best for kids. The board, the adminstration and the staff also have to do their very best to make sure kids don't fall through the cracks in the transition process. By maximizing resources, i believe we'll be in a position to do that. And it would be my hope that many of the East Heights teachers will follow their kids to NY.

Ann: Good morning Cindy. If the bond does not pass, would you support a short-term sales tax increase to help make up some of the funding shortfalls, or what emergency funding solutions would we have to resort to. I assume building renovations would have to be put off and activities/administration(?) cut -- what else would happen?

Cindy Yulich: Right now, such a sales tax is not legal. We can pass bond issues for capital expenses but not for operational expenses. We can't raise taxes to pay teachers - the current funding formula was created to prevent wealthy districts from creating such inequities. That said, if the courts decide a sales tax is legal, the board cannot make that decision. It must come from our county - and we aren't the only school district in our county. Any tax would have to be well thought out regarding term, appropriate exemptions and the like. Bottom line, we shouldn't fund schools this way. The state is shirking their responsibility to fund an appropriate education for each Kansas child. On the second part of your question, the building renovations would be put off. Any savings or efficiencies realized by the passing of the bond would not happen and thus the district will have to find those savings elsewhere in the form of cuts to programs.

Craig: Why should any parent who believes in Judeo-Christian values send their children to a public school when the curriculum and Kansas/Lawrence Education Association is so Anti-Christian? I mean why would you send your children to a school that is contradicting what you are teaching at home?

Cindy Yulich: Craig - I don't think our school contradict what you teach at home. Rather they simply don't address those teachings and leave that to your discretion. Our community is extremely diverse. For the district staff to try to embrace the cultures, beliefs and religious values of every child would be impossible. The role is not to contradict but rather do the job the district is charged with: provide a curricular and extra curricular program to prepare our kids for life. This should be supplemented by the teaching of values at home. I also would not call the system, the LEA or the KNEA anti-Christian. They are simply trying to meet their mission the fairest, most equitable way that they can within the laws of our state and our nation.

Put Kids First, Vote No: At a recent forum, Sue Morgan admitted that the School Board diverts money from salaries and maintenance to capital outlay. Her admission that she and other current school board members up for re-election had insisted no one could use one fund to pay for expenses in another fund when doing that very same transfer was very troubling. First, would you continue this practice of diverting funds to building projects and taking away those funds from salaries, teachers salaries, and the maintenance projects the District should have completed all along. Second, do you think taking away money from teacher's salaries and maintenance to pay for such things as the Adminstration building was the right thing for the board to do?

Cindy Yulich: To clarify, operational funds CAN be used to pay capital expenses and that has been the case for some time. It is my understanding that in the past we actually used non-capital funds for this purpose rather than go to the community for a bond issue (those were obviously very different times financially and it is one reason our existing debt burden is so low). WE CANNOT, however use CAPITAL money to pay operations. We cannot pull money from capital funds to pay teachers. Nor can we go to our community and ask for more dollars to pay teachers. Teachers funds were not used to pay for the administration building. The adminstration building, to my understanding, was paid for from 1) bond funds allocated to purchase warehouse space and 2) capital outlay funds (not operating funds).

Books, not Bricks: If you were elected and the bond issue failed what would you do? And what do you think of the proposal to offer in the next bond issue the opportunity for the people of Lawrence to vote on individual sections of the bond?

Cindy Yulich: Frankly, I don't embrace the breaking out of the bond sections. We are a COMMUNITY and I believe the board and adminstration took that approach when they formulated this bond. To set the bond up in a divisive fashion would divide the community and would fly in the face of the long term planning our community has demanded and that our curriculum audit highly recommended. If the bond fails, we go back to the drawing board. However, I think anyone who feels the bond could very quickly be brought back to a vote is perhaps not seeing the entire picture. Many folks have worked very, very hard for two years to study data, input, and then ultimately promote the bond. It will not be a quick process to bring a bond back to the public.

Moderator: Time is almost up; we'd like to thank Cindy Yulich and all of you who joined us today. We'll take this one last question.

Step: What are your feelings on the inequity among the schools.

Cindy Yulich: Clearly as we move from school to school, inequities are apparent. That is one thing I truly like about the way the bond has been proposed. First, it addresses the core of our city - the majority of the money will be spent east of Iowa. That is overdue. Consolidation, though hard for many to believe, addresses inequity. We can get more resources to more kids. We need to work hard to create equitable learning environments and opportunities in all of our buildings. They may never be 100 percent equitable but we can get a great deal closer than we are now.

Cindy Yulich: Thank you very much for participating today. One thing I'd like everyone to consider is that as a community, you will decide the bond issue. You also need to decide who you want making decisions for our nearly 10,000 kids for the next four years. Please look at the qualifications, experience and dedication of the individuals before you when you make your decision. Most importantly, don't forget and remind all you know to VOTE NEXT TUESDAY APRIL 1st! Thank you again for participating! Cindy

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